UK Release Date: 27th October 2017
Runtime: 132 minutes
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: James Ivory, Luca Guadagnino, Walter Fasano
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Esther Garrel, Amira Casar
Synopsis: A teenager finds his perspective on romance changes over the course of a long, hot summer when his professor father’s latest academic intern is a dashing American.
With Moonlight winning Best Picture at the beginning of the year and God’s Own Country proving to be one of the surprise delights of the summer, 2017 has been good for LGBT films. Call Me By Your Name, from Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, feels like an exquisite culmination of where queer cinema has been going throughout the year. It’s a seductive, sun-dappled, nostalgic daydream of a love story that depicts a blossoming gay relationship in a way that is complex for all of the same myriad reasons as a heterosexual partnership – and that’s refreshing.
Guadagnino’s film transports the audience to a wonderfully non-specific “somewhere in Northern Italy” during the balmy summer of 1983. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is a musically talented youngster living with his academic father (Michael Stuhlbarg) and mother (Amira Casar) at their opulent home. The house plays host to an intern every summer and, this year, brash American Oliver (Armie Hammer) has turned up, with a louche attitude and without a single pair of trousers longer than knee-length. Confused at the new feelings stirring within him, Elio throws himself into a relationship with female buddy Marzia (Esther Garrel), but he soon must confront his true feelings.
There’s a genius to Call Me By Your Name from the very first moments. The lensing is immediately noticeable, with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom eschewing digital to shoot entirely on 35mm film. This gives the movie a woozy, dreamlike grain and allows the story to unfold as if it’s a half-remembered daydream from years gone by. Like the seductive, idyllic playground Guadagnino created for his characters in A Bigger Splash, this film’s setting is a living and breathing character, pushing the protagonists together.
Conversely, it’s that endless summer that also creates the central conflict at play. This isn’t a film where the protagonists are battling homophobia or disapproving parents. Their only struggle is against the passage of time, with Guadagnino’s languid pacing depicting the summer as endless, but also palpably fleeting and limited. This gives the relationship between Chalamet and Hammer a real tentative, timid development that contrasts with their personalities. There’s a subtle thrill to the way they wear each other down, from an abrasive start to broiling affection and lust.
There’s a clear ambiguity to the relationship between the two men and it’s teased out by Hammer and Chalamet with real finesse. Hammer initially swaggers in with brash American bravado, massaging Chalamet’s shoulders after a volleyball game, but he allows Oliver’s macho facade to slip as he is almost terrified by the depth of his growing affection. When their affection gives way to intimacy, there’s a chaste simplicity to the way they act around each other and the physicality feels earned, in a similar way to Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara finally consummating their relationship in Carol.
Guadagnino’s pacing comes to a head in the final act in a perfect manifestation of how a summer break feels, akin to Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘s gleefully simple The Kings of Summer. Initially, it seems as if it’s a vast expanse of time that will last forever but, as the end draws closer, time almost seems to speed up and slip away. This is conveyed with breathless emotion as Hammer and Chalamet are forced to confront the inherent complexity of their time together. Indeed, the entire emotional arc of the movie comes to a head in one speech from Michael Stuhlbarg. It’s a monologue about the very nature of love that, in a lesser film, would have felt trite, but here has the power to bring a tear to even the most sceptical eye.
Call Me By Your Name is the sort of movie that might not have the in-your-face power required to win Oscars, but it’s an intoxicating dreamscape enhanced by its impeccable cinematic craft. By the time Guadagnino allows the credits to roll over an unforgiving, hyper-extended close-up on Chalamet’s face, it’s clear he has produced a romance that is nothing short of captivating. If he brings that same immersive atmosphere to his Suspiria remake, he will be a worthy successor to Argento – and that’s high praise indeed.
Pop or Poop?
Luca Guadagnino has placed a sizeable flag in the awards season firmament with Call Me By Your Name. It casts a bewitching romantic spell on the audience, aided by a pair of fantastic central performances from Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. The film has real complexity and unfolds with a consummate confidence and ease that marks Guadagnino out as one of the most impressive and exciting directors working in cinema today.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.